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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

Archive for the tag “Jangle Pop”

The Effection: Lost Power Pop Resurrected

The EffectionThe Effection released its sole long-player, Soundtrack To A Moment, in 2003. Although they hailed from the region in which I live, I can’t say that I paid any attention to them. Neither did too many people, apparently, and Soundtrack To A Moment went out-of-print.

In the digital age, however, what’s old can become new again, and that great resuscitator of given-up-for-dead Power Pop, Futureman Records, recently made Soundtrack To A Moment available for digital download for the ridiculously low price of $7. Go get this one right now, and bask in the glow of its punk rock/new wave Power Pop ripped from the glory days of 1979.

This is apparent from the first line of the opening track, “The Sound Effection,” where the words “this is the sound effection” announces the driving guitar rock that follows, just like The Jam opened its second long-player with the call to arms of “this is the modern world”:

The title track covers similar sonic ground in the mold of The Jam, but spins it with a decidedly American take on the proceedings in a song about “nothing to do around here”:

But Soundtrack To A Moment is not all loud and thrashing punk rock. Its best track, “Somewhere Souvenir,” takes the mid-tempo approach and adds breezy guitars and gorgeous 60s-styled vocal harmonies:

The band even slows it down completely on “Agony,” while throwing in some slightly jangling guitars to go with those great harmonies that fill the entire album:

To say that Soundtrack To A Moment is a “find” out of nowhere is an understatement. Like the best bands of the early days of punk rock and new wave, The Effection move seamlessly from full-fledged high energy rockers to more “sophisticated” and contemplative stuff. It takes you back in time, moves to 2003 and yet sounds entirely fresh a decade later. My only regret is not getting hip to this sooner.

Better late than never, of course.

Theolonious Monster’s “Sammy Hagar Weekend”: Perfectly Capturing A Certain Place In Time

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Sammy Hagar lives in my local community. He is treated heroically in the local press. He’s an entrepreneur, a performer and a philanthropist extraordinaire. He’s supposedly an overall great guy.

That’s pretty odd. To me, Sammy was always associated with particularly bad singing, even worse taste and a very conservative kind of psuedo-rebellion. You probably knew that late-70s/early-80s scene pretty well: guys walking around in long-sleeve concert t-shirts and girls with feathered roach clips in their hair. Cool, dude.

Theolonious Monster was (and still is) an LA-based band that did a kind of Replacements thing in the 80s. They mixed jangly guitars, punk rock, folk rock with drunken sloppiness, punctuating it all with humor.

A “two-fer” CD collection of their second and third albums (Stormy Weather and Next Saturday Afternoon) is consistently great. “Michael Jordan” is a slacker anthem about sitting home all day doing nothing other than watching reruns of The Odd Couple, and then tuning into to watch Michael Jordan score 47 points. “Lena Horne Still Sings Stormy Weather” is about holding onto all of of the good things in life during times of change.

Their greatest song, though, is “Sammy Hagar Weekend.” It captured perfectly a particular type of “Southern California concert t-shirt scene.” There were, of course, versions of that scene everywhere back in the day. The best lines — and you certainly knew some of these people — remain brilliantly on-point:
We got a Metallica t-shirt/We got a little tiny baby mustache/We got a jacked up Camaro/We’re sitting in the parking lot at Anaheim Stadium/Drinking beer, smoking pot, snorting coke/And then drive, drive over 55/Yeah/Cause it’s a Sammy Hagar weekend/It’s a big man’s day
Here is it, in all of its glory:
So, go check out the two-CD set of the band’s second and third long-players — a great and swirling mix of genres, humor and melody. And stick a finger in Sammy’s eye while you’re at it.

Speed Of Live: A Live Record That Is Actually Quite Good

Most live records are kind of lame. They often lack the immediacy that comes with actually being at the recorded performance. Sometimes the playing is ragged. Sometimes the singing is ragged. Sometimes the recording quality is ragged. Sometimes all of the raggedness of a live recording gets covered up by studio lip gloss, thus defeating entirely the concept of a “live” record. You thus are left essentially with new, likely inferior, studio versions of old songs you probably already have. Why bother?

None of that applies to the live released earlier this year by The Grip Weeds called Speed Of Live. The Grip Weeds are a New Jersey band that took their name from John Lennon’s Private Gripweed character in the 1967 film How I Won The War. That, plus a short list of some of the songs they’ve covered in the past, will give you an idea of the musical spectrum from which they hail:

  • “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” — The Move
  • “Down To The Wire” — Buffalo Springfield
  • “She Don’t Care About Time” — The Byrds

Does that mean The Grip Weeds are hopelessly retro and mired in the good old days of the 60s? Not really. They are, first and foremost, a rock and roll band. And they sure can rock. But they are a rock band steeped in the virtues of melody and multi-part harmonies like, well, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. And, like those bands, the guitars occasionally jangle and sometimes sound like they came from somewhere in the Middle East.

All of these virtues are evident on Speed Of Live. Immediately after the announcer introduces “this band” as “one of my favorite bands” to start the record, Speed Of Live then proceeds to deliver powerful renditions of thirteen of the band’s best known tracks, and two covers, performed in small clubs in the Northeast. This is hardly a document of cigarette lighter-raised arena rock bloat, replete with endless noodling and solos. It instead shows just how good the band is “in concert.” The singing is sharp. The playing is concise and tight throughout the fifty-seven minutes of bass, guitars and drums.

I can listen to the live version of “Salad Days,” with its occasional “Taxman”-like bassline, over-and-over again. “Infinite Soul,” already one of my favorite songs by the band, has an intimate feel on Speed Of Live as if it was recorded in my living room.

The soaring “Speed Of Life” sounds at least as good live as it does on the band’s last “proper” studio recording, 2010’s Strange Change Machine. “Love’s Lost On You” goes on for six minutes on Speed Of Live, without wasting even one of them. Here’s a shorter version of the song, recorded live in the studio:

The two covers on Speed Of Live? “(So You Want To Be A) Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” by, of course, The Byrds. This version seriously rocks, with absolutely perfect harmonies, spectacular guitar playing and lots of “la la la’s.” They also do one of the best versions of “Shakin’ All Over,” which has been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Guess Who and The Who.

Speed Of Live is not a live record that is just “not lame.” Its fifty-seven minutes go by in what seems like an instant. There is not a single weak song in the collection, or a dull interlude in any of the fifteen songs. The record sounds great whether you are listening with headphones, or driving around in traffic at the end of a tough day at the office. In other words, Speed Of Live is just great rock and roll by a band that deserves a whole lot more attention than it receives. Go out and get it.

[This appeared originally in the now-defunct MT Weekly]

A Jangle Pop Christmas

Music has the ability to blow you away. Sometimes, its fun. Sometimes, its meaningful. Sometimes, its surprising.

I decided to listen to a Christmas album during my afternoon commute. It wasn’t your typical Christmas album. It wasn’t sweet or sentimental or traditional. It wasn’t the kind of stuff that pop radio stations play over-and-over again in December.

It was, instead, Under The Influence Of Christmas by the Grip Weeds, and it is “surprising.”

Under The Influence Of Christmas

In fact, “under the influence” is the perfect title. The album is “influenced” by Christmas.  But it is in all respects a rock and roll album that just happens to contain eleven Christmas songs, some traditional, some not.  All are done in the Grip Weeds’ signature rocking, slightly psychedelic, jangle pop style.

The album gets off to a great start with “Christmas Dream,” which just happens to be “The Coolest Song In The World This Week'” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Grand and soaring, it’s reminiscent of “Speed Of Life,” which kicked off their 2010 double-CD Strange Change Machine.

Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders fame lends some rougher-hewn vocals to the bluesier original tune “Santa Make Me Good.”

The Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” with its wistful “it must be Christmastime” plea, gets the full jangle treatment, with guitar assists from Pat Dinizio and Jim Babjak of the Smithereens.

“Merry Christmas All” is a bit of 60’s West Coast sunshine pop about that “very good time of the year.” And so it is.

The band gets (somewhat) traditional on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing.” The former gets a driving guitar and swirling organs. The latter is anchored by a beautiful Rickenbacker guitar. Both have gorgeous harmonies.

Toward the end of the set is another original song, “Christmas Bring Us,” which you can hear band members Kristin Pinell and Kurt Reil perform “live” in acoustic glory, here:

It all ends with a rockin’ version of “Welcome Christmas” from none other than How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  Oh, and for good measure, they even cover Jethro Tull and Emerson Lake & Palmer.

Under The Influence Of Christmas (sound clips of the entire set can be heard here) is simply the best Christmas album I have heard. Ever.

Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed.

A Perfect Pop Gem

A mantra of mine lately has been “if it jangles, I’ll listen to it.”  I never thought of myself as a “jangle pop” person back in the 80’s when “jangle pop” became a genre, but I always had a soft spot for the more melodic parts of the left side of the dial. The Replacements’ “I Will Dare” beat their “Dose Of Thunder” hands down. I could listen to Husker Du’s “I Apologize” and “Hate Paper Doll” any day of the week.

The Red Button takes a decidedly mellower approach to the same melodic formula. Their first album, “She’s About To Cross My Mind,” put 1965 and 1966 into an update machine to craft the perfect pop record that stays in your mind for days, weeks and months at a time.  The word “girl” figured prominently. The ninth song on “Rubber Soul” is, of course, “Girl.” I put their “Free” on a playlist right after The Beatles’ “Rain.” Two more perfect companions might never be found.

Their new record, “As Far As Yesterday Goes” might be even better. Its reach certainly is greater.

Redbutton

Flourishes of Burt Bacharach’s sophisticated 60s pop come in an out. The title song could have been on The Zombies’ “Odyssey and Oracle.” “Easier” does Emitt Rhodes better than Emitt Rhodes does Emitt Rhodes. And, keeping with tradition, there is “Girl, Don’t,” a perfect power pop gem. Jangles can be heard throughout. They also can get breezy with “On A Summer Day”:

<p>On A Summer Day – The Red Button from Seth Swirsky on Vimeo.</p>

“As Far As Yesterday Goes” is my favorite collection of 2011. It’s smart and catchy. It wears its influences without being nostalgic or derivative. It’s sophisticated without being bland. It has an edge without being trendy or falling into alternative rock cliches. And, just like in 1966, its less then 40 minutes long. Brevity is a virtue.

Go get it.

 

The Greatest Song You Probably Never Heard

big-starSometimes a song seems in retrospect to be “ahead of its times.” That usually means that the song or band proved to be influential. The song thus sounds contemporary, even though its old.

Rolling Stone picked “September Gurls” as the 180th greatest song of all time. “A nonhit from [Big Star’s] second LP . . . ‘September Gurls’ is now revered as a power-pop classic.”

“September Gurls” was destined to be a non-hit, coming out in 1974 as rock became bloated and self-important. Instead, Big Star looked back to the British Invasion with concise, elegant guitar pop. In turn, they influenced everyone that followed — REM, The Replacements, Matthew Sweet, Wilco, The Posies and Teenage Fanclub, just to name a few. What sounded old gave birth to the new.

“September Gurls” sounds as fresh and as beautiful as it did 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, etc. That is one of the makings of a great song.

A Happy Way To Spend The Fourth Of July

This one was pulled right out of the time machine. The Merry-Go-Round were a great band out of Hawthorne, California. Their “big” hit, “Live” made it to No. 63 on the national charts, and was covered by the Bangles in the early-80s. It’s playing at the beginning of the clip below of their day on The Dating Game in 1967.

The definitive collection from their brief existence is called, naturally, “The Definitive Collection” and is worth checking out. Writing in the All Music Guide, Tim Sendra noted:

The Merry-Go-Round is a breathtaking blend of chiming folk-rock guitars, British Invasion harmony vocals, baroque pop arrangements, and pure pop songcraft that sounds daisy fresh in 2005. The Beatles are a huge influence, there is plenty of Paul McCartney in [Emitt] Rhodes’ sweet vocals and their vocal harmonies. You can hear the Byrds a bit, some Left Banke (especially on the sweeping orchestral pop gem ‘You’re a Very Lovely Woman’), some L.A. garage on rockers like ‘Where Have You Been All My Life’ and ‘Lowdown’; the group definitely didn’t exist in a vacuum.

Rhodes recently released his first recorded material in 35 years.

But, back to the time machine:

After reminding viewers that The Dating Game is “in color,” Johnny The Announcer says “we couldn’t think of a happier way to spend the Fourth of July than with the Merry-Go-Round.” Rhodes is Bachelor No. 2 who, according toJim Lange, projected a “warmth” that made him a teen idol. Bachelor No. 1, the bass player, perhaps took the Sgt. Peppers thing a wee bit too seriously.

The kitsch value of this is spectacular:

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